Strategies: Because Man Cannot Run on Fumes Alone

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1995

Strategies: Because Man Cannot Run on Fumes Alone
By Mark Jannot

A lunchtime workout inevitably squeezes out one of the day's main events--lunch. With the assistance of Nancy Clark, director of nutrition services at the SportsMedicine Brookline clinic in Massachusetts, here are a few tips for keeping your body and mind energized should your exercise force you to skip the traditional midday repast.

Breakfast: a sit-down affair
"You can't just picture your day in terms of refueling for what you've already done," says Clark. "You've got to fuel for what's ahead, too." she says that if you don't eat something within three hours of waking, you're likely to feel the blood-sugar lag. "You need a meal of 600 to 800 calories, which is about 25 to 33 percent of an average athlete's daily caloric intake, to start right. With your juice, eat two bagels instead of one. Or have a bowl of cereal and a low-fat muffin--not one or the other."

A snack a day keeps the bonk away
"Despite that hearty breakfast," says Clark, "you still need to keep your blood sugar on the upswing." Considering that you probably finished downing your bagels around 8 a.m., your body has already burned close to 800 calories by noon, which is no way to enter into the workout. A light snack--a couple pieces of fruit, some crackers, an energy bar or drink--will raise your blood sugar before you head outside. "You're feeding the muscles and the brain," says Clark. "Without a little food, you'll be running on fumes." Even if you can only find the time to down that orange or gatorade on the drive from the office to the park, clark says to go ahead. Your body will be able to absorb the food quickly enough for you to enjoy a fast boost.

The postworkout meal: hearty and timely
After you've exercised, don't skimp on the spread, even if your only choice is to eat over a pile of papers at your desk. A solid 45 minutes of running can burn 600 or more calories, which you should replenish and then some. A good 1,000-calorie lunch might include a turkey sandwich, a cup of soup or chili, a container of yogurt, and a handful of pretzels. And don't dally too long before you eat. "It's complicated," says Clark, "but there are biochemical reasons why your muscles are most receptive to replacing what they've burned off within two hours of the workout."

Finally, while many nutritionists suggest breaking up a big lunch into several smaller snacks (based on the theory that it's less work on your digestive system and that hence there's less likelihood that you'll doze in the afternoon), Clark offers a rebuttal. "The people I know who just graze all day tend to live on carbo-rich foods like bagels and rice cakes," she says, pointing out that protein is also an important part of an athlete's diet. "When you sit down to complete meals, they tend to be more balanced," Clark adds. "Besides, I'd just as soon eat and be done with it."

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